Light for the Nations: Baptism’s Call

User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 12

John Linnell (1792-1882), Saint John the Baptist
John Linnell (1792-1882), Saint John the Baptist (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, Jan. 12, is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Mass readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17.

Today’s Gospel passage is heavy with significance. It highlights the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and redemptive mission, the allusion to his death and resurrection under the symbolism of the waters of baptism (which is a prelude to his baptism of blood in which he would carry the full burden of our guilt), the revelation of his relationship to humanity as our sinless representative who does not need baptism yet submits to it in humility and obedience, and, perhaps most importantly, the revelation of his relationship to the Father and Spirit in Scripture’s most clear theophany (visible appearance of God) as a Trinity.

As the Son emerges from the waters, the voice of the Father is heard and the Holy Spirit is seen, as the heavens, closed since the sin of Adam, open again: “… and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

The “Chosen One,” the “Servant” in the prophecy of Isaiah in the New Testament is now revealed as the Son. This is a pivotal moment in more ways than one: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is, therefore, the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234).

By the grace of our own baptism, we, too, are called to share in the life of the Trinity, to enter ourselves into this mystery. This baptism is meant for the entire world, as Peter proclaims in the second reading, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

 If the Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life,” baptism is the sacrament that is the “basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (Catechism, 1213). Through our baptism, we are not only cleansed from sin, but buried into Christ’s death, reborn with him and incorporated into his body — and, amazingly, into his life in the Trinity.

What should be our response to such a gift?  In a posture of humility, we receive it with wonder and gratitude. We nurture this new, budding life with the waters of continual repentance and a life of prayer and virtue. Since baptism is the doorway to the other sacraments, we make full use of them and the grace they give to live a fully Christian life.

But as the Gospel unfolds, we see that there is something else. There is also a call that comes with baptism. Like Christ, our baptism is the beginning of a mission, a mission handed on to the apostles after his resurrection: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In this way, we become “a light for the nations” and participate in Jesus’ redeeming work.

Our baptism is, then, not only a gift — but a sacred entrustment, a holy responsibility and a privilege by which we bring hope to the blind, the imprisoned and those in the darkness of sin.

Claire Dwyer is editor of and

coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,

 where she lives with her

husband and their six children.